Speaker ignites NAACP gathering

Published 9:26 pm Sunday, June 6, 2010

Staff Writer

James C. “Tee” Ferguson’s remarks were so fiery they came with a warning from the speaker himself: Something to the effect of, “Some of you might not like what I’m about to say.”
That didn’t stop Ferguson from plowing ahead with his call to confront issues facing black people in the United States.
“We’ve been trained to be subordinate, and that’s why we so hate one another,” Ferguson told his mostly black audience Friday evening in Washington.
“We’ve got a spiritual responsibility to do better,” he told dozens of guests at the Beaufort County branch of the NAACP’s 29th-annual banquet.
“We are wiping each other out,” he said, referring to black-on-black violence.
The speaker acknowledged his words were calculated to turn heads, and indicated that his statements might make some people uncomfortable.
He began his speech by saying that the U.S.’s economic philosophy is based on British monarchical government — a have-and-have-not system.
The black community’s roots are in a “socialistic” system of collective brotherhood, Ferguson asserted.
“If we had, the others had,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately, we are clashing with a system of government that is built primarily on what you have and amassing great fortunes.”
Stating that people who fail to change become extinct, he continued, saying, “We as black people find ourselves today in probably the worst shape that we’ve ever been.”
Ferguson said he thought integrating public schools was a good concept that wouldn’t work because “the schools, in my opinion, would never really integrate, they would desegregate.”
Most of his listeners applauded this sentiment.
He expressed regret that many youths can’t name notable civil-rights figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, who helped found the NAACP.
“These are great saints who gave their all in the struggle for black people,” Ferguson said.
He said blacks need to look back to find out what gave their predecessors the strength to survive slavery and the civil-rights movement.
He decried having seen young men “with their behinds exposed,” an apparent reference to low-hanging pants.
“We have young men that father children and just walk away from them,” he declared, adding that, when he was young, “Abortion was a sin against God and it ought to be viewed so today.”
Returning to his earlier reflections on black schools, the speaker said, “Discipline was the order of the day, and we don’t have it anymore.”
He said eliminating the draft was detrimental to young black men, who learned leadership skills in the military.
He came out for opening more military schools, not expelling students.
“The very people that tell us we can’t discipline our children, where are they when these children are being sentenced as adults?” he asked rhetorically, winning more applause.
Ferguson seemed to advocate spiritual revival as a way of addressing some of the problems about which he spoke.
“If we believe truly in God, we’ll treat everybody right,” he said.
Evidently taking on critics of President Barack Obama, who has been derided as a socialist by some on the right, Ferguson said prominent black political figures — singer-activist Paul Robeson, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., among them — are frequently dismissed as socialists.
“Our provenance is not capitalism,” he said. “We are from a people who are truly a village of people. Your children were my children.”
Ferguson said he has approached various universities in an attempt to spark interest in studying the mind-set of black people, to assess why blacks “won’t work for each other” or “buy from one another.”
He sounded one of his major themes, “we’ve got to do better.”
“We’ve got a spiritual responsibility to do better,” he said.
Calling for a renewal of family and community spirit, Ferguson encouraged his audience to “sit your children down and say something.”
“We’ve got to go to the nursing homes and apologize to our mothers and fathers,” he said.
At points, Ferguson advised the assembled to visit port cities like Charleston, S.C., where Africans were brought into the country against their will.
He mentioned attempting to pick cotton when he was a child, and spoke of the men and women who did that kind of work by hand from dawn to dusk.
“Having come through those kinds of conditions, we owe it to God to be the best people that we can be,” Ferguson concluded.
Soon after that comment, he received a standing ovation.
Ferguson, whose biography says he has served in the South Carolina General Assembly, was introduced by Bill Booth, president of the Beaufort County NAACP.
“Sit back, be prepared for an awakening,” Booth told the crowd.
The county branch had hoped to sell 275 tickets to Friday’s event, according to Emma Howard, co-chairwoman of the banquet.
The dinner session’s theme was “For our children we must never go back.”
A number of elected officials were on hand for the gathering, including Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County commissioners.
“I think it’s a great event because it’s an opportunity to acknowledge the work that’s been done by the organization,” Langley said before the dinner and speech.
Langley said he doesn’t agree with pundits who insist that the NAACP is no longer relevant or that the U.S. became a “post-racial” society with the election of Obama.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he said, citing the shooting of a black man in South Carolina. “Racism is still alive and well today.”